The state of the working class and their organisations in Zimbabwe

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20/02/2017 by socialistfight

By Ady Mutero, Revolutionary Internationalist League – Zimbabwe


Morgan Tsvangirai, former prime minister turned opposition leader but “the swallowing or absorption of the workers’ movement into the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) demobilized the militant ranks of the workers’ struggle which was nearing social revolution by 1997/1998.”

In 2014 we wrote, “Historical events in the development of labour-capital relations have unequivocally established the fact that genuine and honest collective approach is the tried and tested method of achieving desired class results”. This remains true and even clearer today if one looks at the direction the world economy is going, inevitably (in the absence of organised independent, militant and democratic revolutionary labour force) the direction of monopoly capitalism, a period of over-production and under-consumption. Over-production and under-consumption prompted the scramble for markets in Africa by European capitalists.

The post-independence labour movement in Zimbabwe of the 1980s had a major defect in that it was in the armpits of the government. It was an extension of the ruling party and with such an arrangement there was absolutely no autonomous workers’ action and government could dictate the workers` responses in labour disputes. That was a very dangerous situation hence when the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) led by Morgan Tsvangirai and company decided to break that umbilical cord which tied the labour movement to government; they instantly became working class heroes. The celebrated point being underscored from this experience is that of Labour Independence as a fundamental principle of progressive Trade Unionism.

The united ZCTU managed to effectively mobilize resistance against the neo-liberal attacks of ESAP and organized historical strikes, demonstrations and stayaways in defence of bread and butter issues. As a result, the labour movement became the epicentre of the struggle for both political and economic democracy and the ZCTU brand became a proud badge of honour for the Zimbabwean workers.

What then went wrong?

But the legacy of Morgan Tsvangirai to the labour movement was paradoxically to drag back the labour movement into the smelly armpits of the politicians and this time around those of the employers as well.

This was a clear case of ideological degeneration of the yesteryear hero turned villain by unchecked selfish political ambition. The swallowing or absorption of the workers’ movement into the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) demobilized the militant ranks of the workers’ struggle which was nearing social revolution by 1997/1998.

Workers were told not to rely on their tried and tested militancy and collectivity but to now bank on voting in opposition politicians to represent their interests in parliament despite the fact that most of these politicians had class contradictions with the interests of the workers; the majority were businessmen, lawyers and middleclass intellectuals who had their own class interests to fight for. Workers’ irrefutable militancy was now channelled towards the myth of the parliamentary route to freedom. From the year 2000 to date, the tag or brand ZCTU became associated with opposition politics ahead of labour activism; in particular, they went into alliance with Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

All subsequent ZCTU administrations watered down real workers’ issues preferring to focus on propping up the MDC, thus entering into an unprincipled alliance with those they differ with fundamentally, and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai. With that new relationship came another major adulteration of progressive Trade Union principles, i.e. reliance on external funding for the labour movement`s activities. Donations usually are tied with conditionalities. Yet in order for members to have ownership and control of activities, it is imperative that they, the workers, fund their own activities. The ZCTU administration became reliant on donor funding which supported their MDC backing programmes. As a result the workers issues were abandoned and dissenting voices in the ZCTU leadership were ruthlessly and undemocratically purged.

In response to the ZCTU-MDC alliance, ZANU-PF created its own surrogate labour federation, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) as a counter and in the process weakened, divided, and subordinated another section of the workers` movement to the will of politicians. This marked the death of effective organized labour federations in Zimbabwe, as the environment became so polarized with either federation parroting the positions of their respective paymasters and handlers at the expense of workers’ `genuine grievances.

It was now left to independent Trade Unions like the United Food and Allied Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (UFAWUZ) to fight their own industrial sector battles in their corners. However, such divided and sectorial actions worked well to the advantage of the employers and government as they used the absence of a militant labour movement to accelerate neo-liberal attacks on labour and on the poor in general.

The splits that occurred in those Federations did not help matters either although a breakaway faction (Concerned Affiliates) of the ZCTU offered a glimmer of hope to the resuscitation of a militant and vibrant radical labour federation. Among its (Concerned Affiliates) stated reasons for abandoning the ZCTU apart from the disputed flawed election, was the ideological bankruptcy of the ZCTU which was supporting neo-liberal politics as well as being an appendage of MDC.

As UFAWUZ at first we found it necessary to join this emerging and promising labour movement as its objectives, although on the right of our left, were in line with our union`s long standing position of maintaining the three important principles for Trade Unionism that is Unity (solidarity of workers), Independence (controlled by the workers themselves) and Democratic methods (collective decision making). After a few months as UFAWUZ we chose to disassociate ourselves from these comrades. (Maybe some would ask) Are we afraid of challenges? Can we not work with others? Do we have a purist mentality? Apart from the obvious operational challenges which face any new movement, the Concerned Affiliates proved to be a cocktail of ideologies and perspectives. Instead of rebuilding the labour movement from scratch and laying new and firm foundations, some in the leadership chose to waste time, resources and revolutionary energy pursuing a costly and odious legal battle to reclaim that “dirty” tag or brand of the name ZCTU. Our own analysis as UFAWUZ revealed that such a move was being done not to advance the workers’ struggle but that it was being done for sentimental and self-aggrandizement reasons by some in the leadership and that it ran parallel to the principles of Trade Unionism which UFAWUZ identifies itself with.

The Vacuum and Possibilities

The situation in Zimbabwe resembles that of what is obtaining at internationally. Internationally the world is impregnate with revolutionary possibilities. The only missing link, a crisis is of leadership leading organized, principled and class conscious organisations, movements or parties. In Zimbabwe, the absence of real alternative agenda to neo-liberalism have seen spontaneity and uncoordinated activities aimed at forcing the government to peacefully reform some perceived anti-working class policies or practices. This quest for democratic demands, with no or a lack of leadership, is quite often deviated from its concrete objectives, mostly later hijacked by agents of capitalist-imperialism.

However, the majority of the Zimbabweans no longer have illusions in the opposition politics as a panacea to their situation. This is regardless of the spirited attempts by the opposition to repackage their failed policies and strategies.


United Food and Allied Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe with their banners in Mbare, Harare in 2015.

What is to be done?

UFAWUZ believes that a regrouping of likeminded and radical unions is imperative to lay the foundation for a worker oriented and ideologically clear labour movement in Zimbabwe, capable of leading the fight for survival against the ever-increasing attacks by employers and the state. The organized labour should work closely with ideologically class conscious social movements including community based organisations, like the residents’ associations, the unemployed and socialist organisations. Interlinking our common struggles is vital in building global resistance to barbarism. Boundaries should be broken and replaced with common international structures of the oppressed. The events in developed countries in particular the recent USA election should rather serve as a clarion call for the world working class to be united and prepare themselves against the momentous fights ahead. In this phase of imperialism, a result of failure of consumption to keep with production (Hobson 1902:10), the only reasonable prescription is for the working class to collectively use their economic weapons, and cause a social revolution. ▲

Unless the workers developed a program premised on the above fundamentals, 2017 and beyond can be a disastrous, a death kneel for humanity. In the case of Zimbabwe, it will be a victory and permanence of counterrevolutionary and neo-liberalism.

One Solution – Revolution!

Socialist Fight: On the statement on the Fusion between RCIT and the Socialist League of Zimbabwe

On 3 February 2017, the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) and the Socialist League of Zimbabwe (SLZ) announced their fusion. The statement is standard leftism apart from the assertions of imperialist chauvinism that is the RCIT hallmark which identifies Russia and China as ‘Great Imperialist Powers’. See points 9 “the Great Powers (China, USA, EU, etc.)” and point 12 “Down with the interference by all Great Powers like US, EU and China!”. Point 12 goes on to: “Support the resistance of the people against imperialist crusaders and their local allies (Mali, Somalia, etc.)!”

They could have added Uganda to the list and told us they are all US/EU stooge regimes and nothing to do with China at all but that truth would undermine their own false equation.

In Zimbabwe China managed to avoid the traps it fell into in much of the rest of the continent in the 1970s, when under the guidance of Mao’s ridiculous Three Worlds Theory, ‘Russian Imperialism’ became the main enemy and anyone opposed to it and allied to the USA was preferred resulting in bizarre alliances with Mobutu in Zaire and UNITA/Apartheid South Africa against the MPLA in Angola, to say nothing of supporting Pinochet in Chile when he was mass executing the entire leadership of the working class after the 1973 coup – after all these were only ‘Russian Social Imperialists’.

However, in Zimbabwe China supported Mugabe and the USSR supported the western-backed Nkomo in the liberation struggle against Ian Smith and imperialism hence the favorable position China occupies in Zimbabwe today.

In many ways it is possible to equate Chinese involvement it Africa with aspect of 19th century colonialism but not with modern imperialism. And here we use the word “aspects” advisedly because China cannot directly militarily oppress, invade or occupy any lands outside its immediate periphery. Because, like Russia, it has only one aircraft carrier and that is only 60% of the size of one of the ten nuclear-powered supercarriers the USA possess and just about 40% bigger than the other nine US aircraft carriers, to say nothing of NATO and other US allies. There is absolutely no chance of China or Russia fighting a war with the USA and EU in Africa or South America.

Chinese companies are brutal employers in Africa, not least in Zimbabwe, meting out frequent violence to workers with brutal dictator Mugabe’s support but they provide vast infrastructures projects and other benefits to countries in Africa in order to be allowed to extract minerals and crops in fertile lands they purchased. This is capitalist exploitation but not the daylight robbery the US and EU performs on its victims via import controls, the IMF, World Bank, trade deals, etc. The Guardian recently reported that in 2012 developing countries received a total of $1.3tn, including all aid, investment, and income from abroad. But that same year $3.3tn flowed out mainly to western banks, very little to China.  

Back in 2008 Zimbabwe’s Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa said of the elections: “Sanctions against Zimbabwe (were intensified) just before the elections,” while “large sums of money” were poured into Zimbabwe “by the British and Americans to bribe people to vote against President Mugabe.”

The goal, Chinamasa continued, is to “render the country ungovernable in order to justify external intervention to reverse the gains of the land reform program.” He described Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC as an “an Anglo-American project designed to defeat and reverse the gains of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle, to undermine the will of the Zimbabwean electorate and to return the nation to the dark days of white domination”. Chinese investments have thwarted the West; the Zimbabwe economy has recovered due to this alliance. The Chinese companies are predatory capitalists but cannot be equated with western imperialism. ▲



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